Needleman is a Beijing-based tattoo shop started by two friends, Man and Xing. Man tattoos, and Xing designs calligraphy. As collaborators, they both have a common appreciation not just for the art of tattooing, but for all traditional arts and painting.
A former ice carver from the northern city of Harbin, Man later moved to Beijing to attend the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. It was there that he met Xing, who studied Chinese calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting. Last year, Man and Xing co-founded the Needleman tattoo workshop which combines both aspects of their talents into one concept.
“China has a lot of really great folk art and traditional arts – for example, Shaanxi leather-cut designs and papercut art,” Man explains, “a lot of that actually already resembles the Western old-school style of tattooing. We want to use tattoo art to translate some of these traditional concepts into modern ideas that young people can also appreciate.”
“As a calligrapher, it’s important to design characters for tattoos which look good on all the contours of the body,” Xing says,” but they also need to be quite refined and sophisticated based on Chinese calligraphy traditions.”
Their combined approach can spark interesting ideas in China, where there are many tattoo stereotypes and clichés. Needleman’s tattooing style is actually much more adaptable and fluid, often taking inspiration from old-school, Japanese, traditional, and new modern styles.
Outside of the tattoo workshop, they also illustrate books, paint larger works, and make art prints. “We complement each other as artists,” says Man. Their classical training as fine artists is evident in the illustrative quality of their tattoo work.